No one needs "Russkiy Ivan"

Roman Tsymbaliuk
08:00, 16 June 2016
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Opinion

Russia continues to show how “gracious” it may be. At least, that’s how the Kremlin presented the exchange of Ukrainian citizens Yuriy Soloshenko and Hennadiy Afanasyev for Odesa separatists Vitaliy Didenko and Elena Glishchinskaya (with an infant baby). Here are the two main foci of Russian media: firstly, the swap was allegedly made possible only due to the personal contribution of Viktor Medvedchuk, who frequents in the news hanging around Putin in a no-tie format. Secondly, Russia exchanged Odesa journalists for a “spy” (Soloshenko) and a “terrorist” (Afanasyev). Everything seems fine at first glance. The average Russian citizen is pretty skeptical about the objectivity and fairness of the Russian judiciary. But there is one exception - when it’s the Ukrainian citizens who are on trial. Here the Russian Themis just can’t be wrong. “Killer of the Russian journalists” Nadia Savchenko couldn’t be sentenced to 20 years in jail for nothing, right?!

In fact, this whole swap operation is very similar to Putin's decision last winter to begin deliveries of the Ukrainian gas from the occupied Crimea to the residents of southern Ukrainian mainland city of Henichesk. At the time, citing "humanitarian reasons," the Kremlin declared yet another intention to save the Ukrainians. However, as soon as the Russian cities also started lacking gas due to the anomalous cold, it suddenly became clear that it’s only the Mayor of Henichesk who can appeal for help directly to Putin. Apparently, the mayors of Russian cities couldn’t.

The average Russian citizen is pretty skeptical about the objectivity and fairness of the Russian judiciary

The case with the latest swap is sort of similar. There are more than a hundred Russian citizens doing time in Ukrainian prisons for taking part in hostilities against the Ukrainian forces in Donbas. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry statistics, it’s more than 130 people. Russian diplomats for some reason consider them political prisoners who are "charged in connection with the armed conflict in Donbas." However, when the case comes to a possible exchange, they are of no interest to the Russian side. Really, who needs, for example, a driver of the Russian tank – the only survivor in the Russian tank offensive on the Ukrainian positions? What could one expect from him? He might as well say that Ukrainians are terrible and ruthless warriors defending their country and not some "Punishers-Fascists-Banderites." Such stories may cut significantly the number of those willing to build the “Russian world” in Ukraine. Danger-danger!

The history of the exchange of Ukrainian citizens for other Ukrainian citizens is something new and weird for Ukraine

From the media perspective, "Odesa journalists" are a much more beneficial pair. They can become regular guests of the Russian TV panel shows talking about human rights violations in Ukraine and the horrors in Ukrainian prisons. Moreover, there is a growing demand for new faces on television, as the Russian audience has been fed up with traditional "talking heads" who cover the Ukrainian issue. It is clear that the Ukrainian penitentiary facilities are no resort. Indeed, they may be overcrowded and even poorly air-conditioned. However, the new guests of the Russian capital should ask their former fellow citizens… As they say, everything is learned in comparison. The stories told by Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk of torture in Russian detention facilities are truly terrifying.

The history of the exchange of Ukrainian citizens for other Ukrainian citizens is something new and weird for Ukraine. Russia has much more experience in such operations. Suffice it to recall the exchange of 10 Russian spies in 2010 for four Russian citizens who worked in the interests of the U.S. Government.

Roman Tsymbaliuk

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